Terrance Heath

Confessions of an Occasional Work-From-Home Dad

Filed By Terrance Heath | March 05, 2013 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Marissa Mayer, Yahoo

As I write this, I'm working from home. My husband, the main breadwinner in our house, is moonlighting this evening. I worked from home today, in yahoo-voices.jpgorder to be here when he dropped our youngest son off at the house, and when our oldest son arrived home from school instead of going to his usual aftercare program.

It works out well, for everyone. The hubby is off to his moonlighting gig, and the kids are home and doing some post-snack playing, and I'm continuing what's probably already a more productive workday than it would have been in the office. If I went in, I'd either have to leave the office early and waste time commuting, or we'd have to pay someone to sit with the kids for a few hours before I got home.

Needless to say, I'm glad I don't work at Yahoo.

In a memo read round the world, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has made it clear that working at home will not be an option on her watch. For a contemporary technology-driven company this is a striking position, one that appears to set back the modern workplace and working parents by about two decades.

Eliminating the ability to telecommute eats away at the core of what Yahoo, an Internet pioneer, and Mayer, a new mother, would seem to be all about. Predictably, reaction was swift. Mommy blogs expressed outrage at this anti-family policy. Technology blogs called it misguided. Workplace blogs said the ban might even be unlawful, though that's hard to fathom.

No one should be surprised if Mayer reverses herself--like Netflix when it angered millions of faithful customers 17 months ago with a steep price hike masked in a plan to break apart its DVD rental and streaming services. Or, dare I say it, like New Coke. Such blunders surface from time to time in the corporate world and all one can do is marvel.

If Mayer reverses herself, it may be because a lot of talented, productive, valuable employees feel that Mayer is asking them to chose between working at Yahoo and being there for their families, and choose the latter.

One thing's for sure, there probably weren't a lot of Yahoo employees shouting "Yahoo!", after reading this:

To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.

Beginning in June, we're asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices. If this impacts you, your management has already been in touch with next steps. And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration. Being a Yahoo isn't just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.

"Yahoo! I'll have to miss my son's concert!"

"Yahoo! I'll have to skip my daughter's softball game!"

"Yahoo! I'll have to spend more money to have a stranger take care of my kids now!"

"Yahoo! I'll have to commute to and from the office to make that parent/teacher conference!"

"Yahoo! I'll have to deal with co-workers questioning my 'judgement' every time I have to make a special arrangement be at home."

"Yahoo! I'll either have to uproot my family and move closer to a Yahoo office, or I'll have to live separately from my family and see them mostly on weekends."

My guess is that many Yahoo employees will hate this policy as much as many of us work-from-home types do. Certainly, some CEO types approved of Mayer's move for the expected reasons: Mayer is trying to turn around a company that lost its position as a leader in all-things-internet; "personal interactions" in hallways and cafeterias, and face-to-face meetings are the best way to "convey a company's direction"; this move will get rid of "slackers" who've taken advantage of Yahoo's lax monitoring of work-from-home arrangements.

This policy will probably prove a real hardship for some employees. One of the things I value most about my current job, as a parent, is the flexibility to work from home. When one of my kids is home sick, I can stay home with them and get work done. Likewise, when schools open late or or close early due to weather, I can simply opt to work from home and see them off or be here when they get home.

I can also attend meetings and other events at school, and return to work a lot sooner than if I had to go back to the office. Plus, I've been able to be there when my son needed a little extra support when he did his first oral presentation, or when he was captain of his class team in the school's "geography bee."

When the hubby moonlights, to bring in a little extra money, I can support his effort by working from home, to be here when the kids come home or get dropped off early. Like I said before, I'd actually spend less time working and more time commuting if I went into the office in the morning, and then left early in order to be here when he drops off our youngest son, and when our oldest son walks home from school.

Sure, we could pay a babysitter to do the same thing, but that would kinda run counter to the idea of bringing in more cash. Plus, no one is going to take better care of my kids than I can. (Besides, I'd miss moments like the one going on in the background right now, as our oldest son reads to our youngest.)

The result is that I'm more loyal to this job. I'm likely to stay with this job as long as possible, because the chances of finding another with the same kind of flexibility aren't great. Not having that flexibility would be costly, as we'd probably have to hire someone else to be with the kids when we're both working. And I'd probably miss out on lot more of my kids' lives. Either that, or we'd have to become a one-income family.

Plus, I think I'm actually mor productive when I work from home. It seems like I'm busier, and spend more time actually working. Maybe because I'm spending less time in "face-to-face" meetings.

I'll admit some bias. I hate meetings. I don't know if there are any studies on this, but I have a theory that in any hour-long meeting there's not more that 20 minutes of useful information. The rest is just people who like to hear themselves talk, and people who like having an audience to reprise the argument they just had in the hallway outside my office, or on the conference call yesterday.

Maybe it has something to do with my ADD, but I'd sooner have a tooth drilled than sit through a meetings. Honestly, you lose me about 30 minutes into a meeting. And don't think that a "no laptops, no tablets, no smartphones" policy is going to make me any more likely to pay attention. I can zone out entirely on my own, and after an hour I'm long gone. In a perfect world, all "face to face meetings" would be 10 minutes long and conducted while standing.

If Yahoo loses employees over this, it may not be because they're all "slackers." Some may simply need an arrangement that allows them to prioritize their other job: parenting.
And I have news for working-mom Amanda Enayati, who defended Yahoo's new policy.

Google Mayer's name and you will find that the media and blogosphere are equally riled up. The move, some say, is particularly disappointing coming from a new mother, who presumably should know better about the difficult position that many parents are in.

And who are we kidding? By "parents" we mean mostly moms, because whether we have solid childcare, family support or neither, many of us are performing real-life acrobatics worthy of Cirque du Soleil.

... But here's the thing: Being stuck between the rock of workplace imperatives and the hard place of home mandates is not new to any of us working mothers, and we all know that the trade-offs you have to make in that position are almost never easy or simple. The difference is that Mayer's experience is far more public and high-stakes, and half the world is second-guessing her.

Actually, it's not news. Or it shouldn't be news that men are parents too. And while Enayati may have a point in her assumption that the bulk of childcare still falls more in the laps of women than men, Yahoo's new "work-from-home" policy may actually be a bigger blow to men --or "working dads."

According to the Families and Work Institute's nationally representative study of the U.S. workforce:

  • Men actually have more access to telecommuting than women. Men (19 percent) are significantly more likely than women (13 percent) to be allowed to work part of their regular paid hours at home.
  • Men (4 percent) are also more likely to work mainly from home compared with women (2 percent). Similarly, while men (67 percent) tend to work at home more often than women (59 percent) on an occasional basis, these differences do not reach statistical significance.

Some of us guys use that flexibility to be more engaged in caring for our children. "Work from home" flexibility isn't just a reflection of the "new workplace" but supports a lot of "new" families, in which men are more involved in their children's lives and care without having to be less involved with work. (Even in families like mine, where taking the care of the kids always falls to a man --me or my husband.

So, I'm glad I had the flexibility to work from home today, and will be able to do the same tomorrow, in order to attend a parent/teacher meeting in the afternoon. It's given me the flexibility to be a more engaged husband and father, and a more effective employee.

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